By Brad Avery
Directed by Sergio Martino, Your Vice… is a loose adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat. The story involves an alcoholic writer, Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), who regularly abuses his unraveling wife Irina (Anita Strindberg). After a string of murders leaves Oliviero the prime suspect, Irina becomes complicit in helping to dispose of a corpse so that more suspicion doesn’t fall on him. As paranoia and infidelity cause the couple’s psyches to dissolve, they begin plotting to kill each other. The film reaches a series of successive emotional heights in its final act, deviating wildly from Poe’s writing with a scene where Irina finally murders Oliviero.
If this plot sounds familiar, that’s because Kubrick has translated it into the iconic “All work and no play” scene of The Shining (1980). While The Shining (1980) is notorious for its dramatic alteration from the source material in favor of original expression, the final product feels so singular that it may come as a surprise to some viewers that parts of the film are as a matter of fact borrowed images.
In translating Your Vice…, Kubrick keeps true to the central idea of the scene–a wife confirming her worst fears about her husband’s broken mind, but the power dynamic is altered. The women in both scenes enter the room with dread; for Irina it is also in the form of a psychotic break. Absent from The Shining are the flashbacks of abuse that remind the viewer of the husband’s monstrous violence. Instead, the viewer carries the weight of implied abuse throughout the film — dialogue in early scenes about Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) alcoholism bear weight throughout the rest of the film and Kubrick trusts the audience to remember that. Martino would rather make things more visceral, more angry.
Like many giallos, Your Vice… is a psychosexual film, filled with philandering and nudity. It is actively aroused and titillating between scenes of horror. The Shining too is psychosexual, but it is impotent and pent up; sexual rage manifests as physical violence spurred only superficially by the paranormal plot elements. It is Jack’s sexual frustrations that lead him to his breakdown (all work, no play).
In making the vengeful wife the purveyor of violence, Martino adds a sense of justice to his scene. The impact of seeing Irina’s memories mixes a sense of vindication for her with the repulsion of the violence. Kubrick removed this and emphasized fear and victimization. Even without the flashbacks, Jack’s presence and Wendy’s terror exemplify the abuse that is still continuing, and that Wendy is learning to resist.
Kubrick paves over the scene with that unique authorial voice that he brings to all his films. He flipped the meaning of the scene while maintaining its most vital element–the absurdist horror of the deranged manuscript. The scene in Your Vice… ultimately becomes about revenge–revenge for physical trauma, sexual infidelity, gaslighting, madness and mental agony bestowed upon this woman. By the end, it also becomes about her complicity in the cycle of violence, casting her no longer as a mere victim but as the perpetrator of violence as well. In this sense, Kubrick is even more sympathetic to the victim (something that has rarely been said about his treatment of Shelley DuVall) in that she is never made to appear as anything other than a terrified and confused person acting in self-defense. There is no judgment.